The sound of the front door slamming rang through the silence like a rifle shot, and I flinched visibly, my reflection wincing back at me.
“Hello?” I called. No response. “Is someone there?”
It was too quiet. If someone had just walked through the door, with an entrance like that, why couldn’t I hear them? Why wouldn’t they respond when I called out? I should have been able to feel their presence, at least, but there was nothing. No subconscious awareness of another life tingling over my skin, no creepy breathing echoing through the silence. The apartment still felt empty aside from me.
Carefully, I snuck toward the door of the bathroom, intending to peek into the living room before revealing myself — just in case there was a psycho in black waiting with a butcher knife. My eyes raked over the closet of their own volition, unconsciously categorizing something normal to keep the weird at bay. The distinct lack of a certain item brought me to a halt. I looked closer, carefully inspecting the edges of each garment, but I hadn’t missed it. Sheila’s yellow top was gone.
That door-slam had been the sound of someone leaving. Angrily. Not someone entering.
There were still a couple paint chips falling like dandruff from the main door when I stepped into the living room. A wave of deja vu washed over me as I watched them settle on the floor. I had seen that exact pattern before — when Sheila had left in a huff, taking the yellow top with her.
But that didn’t make any sense. How could I have skipped the entire confrontation without hearing a second of it? Or being part of it? I had jumped right to her exit. I didn’t really mind not hearing her accusations that I was heartless again, but I was deeply unsettled by the idea that I was repeating a moment I’d thought was a dream.
Slowly, I crept toward the back of the couch, not sure what I’d find there. If the memory was playing out exactly as it had originally, I should already be part of it, sitting on the couch as Sheila stormed out, about to be seized by a panic attack. Instead, I was walking around, outside the memory/dream’s timeline. That couldn’t be a good sign.
Sure enough, I could see myself hunched over on the couch, deep in the thralls of a panic attack, wearing the exact outfit I was now, minus the jacket. I circled around to stand in the middle of the room, staring down at Derek-Past.
My stomach dropped with a sickening lurch as the truth squashed me like a bug. It hadn’t all been a dream. I was dead. It was the only explanation that made even a shred of sense. I was a ghost, trapped inside my own memories in some weird, twisted form of purgatory.
I waited for the panic attack to hit, for the crippling wave of adrenaline that would make me a mirrored bookend to my past self. But there was nothing. Not even a twinge. All I felt was a numb sense of confusion.
Would I have to relive this moment over and over for the rest of eternity?
Death sure had a sick sense of humor if this was all it had to offer. How wrong everyone had been. There were no pearly gates, no loved ones waiting to welcome me with open arms. Hell, there weren’t even little pointy-horned demons with pitchforks waiting to munch on my soul. There was just me, other me, and a moment I would rather have forgotten. I wondered if I’d get to relive the entire day, or just watch myself suffer in a panic attack forever. Was I trapped inside the apartment, or could my ghostly self walk right out that door and haunt people?
Derek-Past sat back, coming out of the panic attack I remembered all too vividly. I waited, trying to tell if he could see me. But his eyes scanned past without a flicker of recognition or horror, seeing only the apartment’s flaws like they had earlier.
I was gonna take that as a no.
“Hey . . . me,” I said, feeling utterly ridiculous as I crouched down and waved a hand inches from his nose. Nothing. It was like I wasn’t there. Which, of course, I guess I wasn’t. So much for there always being a shred of truth in fiction. Why couldn’t it operate like it did in movies and TV? Why couldn’t he at least have felt a random breeze or something to alert him to my presence. Ghost Whisperer he definitely was not.
“Dude, can you hear me? Helloooo?” Still nothing. Awesome.
I sighed, frustration setting in as I stood and backed away from the couch. I refused to play by these rules. There had to be some way to interact with my past self, to warn him not to go to the park. Because reliving the turning to stone bit wasn’t high on my list of things to repeat. And maybe, if I could stop it from happening, the curse would never exist and all of this would end. Maybe I could still wake up, alive.
Derek-Past had finished his assessment of the apartment and was rising, which meant I only had a few more minutes to divert him from the impending confrontation. Quickly, I looked around the small space, looking for something to catch his attention, or better yet, to stop him with. My eyes landed on the sketchbook waiting in the mess on the kitchen table, the same sketchbook I’d taken to the park. If I could just keep him from picking it up, maybe he’d decide to do something else.
He moved past me, heading toward the table.
“No, no, no,” I cried and darted in front of him, slamming my hands down over the sketchbook, holding it in place. “Trust me, dude, you don’t want to go to the park today.” I waited while Derek-Past collected the jacket from the back of the nearest chair and shrugged into it.
He reached for the sketchbook, and I held my breath, scrunching my eyes closed, praying this would work, that he wouldn’t be able to lift it, that it would suddenly seem glued to the table.
“Please,” I breathed, willing everything I had into holding the book in place. But his hand reached right through mine, making mine shimmer like a reflection on water.
“C’mon!” I yelled, exasperated, as Derek-Past lifted the sketchbook out from under me without even a hesitation. I threw my hands up and watched him walk out the door, shaking my head.
“Wrong move,” I muttered and stomped after him.